Last year around £2 billion was spent on Glucosamine products, capsules filled with the powdered shells of crabs, lobsters and prawns, compared to £30 million on Vitamin C, suggesting millions of Britons believe the supplements will protect their knees, hips, wrists and knuckles from deterioration.
Around 1.2 million people in the UK visit their GP suffering from Osteoarthritis, characterised by loss of cartilage in the joints and according to arthritis UK one in ten people in the UK may suffer from joint degeneration.
There is no known cure and few effective treatments except painkillers and eventually surgery so it’s no wonder people are turning to alternative methods. Sales of Glucosamine supplements have increased by more than 60% since 2003.
'Glucosamine is needed to produce a molecule called hyaluronic acid, which is found naturally in cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and synovial fluid around the joints and helps with elasticity,' says Dr Pieris Nicola, a nutritional therapist and pharmacology expert.
'You can't obtain glucosamine directly from your diet. Instead, our body produces it from the glucose and glutamine building blocks in all foods.
'As production of glucosamine slows with age, some people decide to take it as a supplement. Glucosamine supplements are prepared using chitin, present in the shells of crabs, lobsters, prawns and shrimps. Vegetarian glucosamine is produced by a process of corn fermentation.'
Arthritis Research UK suggests that those who want to try it should take glucosamine mixed with chondroitin (shark cartilage) supplements for three months and if the pain eases, carry on.
'Most of the trials involve patients taking between 1,500mg and 2,000mg of glucosamine per day, which is what many of the over-the-counter supplements contain,' says Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK.
'In our own review we found that glucosamine sulphate supplements scored three out of five for effectiveness while glucosamine hydrochloride scored one out of five.
'All the trials have found that there are very few side effects to taking glucosamine, so even if a patient is improving only thanks to the placebo effect, it's not doing them any harm.
'The majority of the trials have evaluated that taking glucosamine demonstrated significant clinical benefit when compared with placebo of non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs.'